July 5 – Forever. Still.


There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear – John 4:18

July 5, again.

For the 6th year in a row on this date, I found myself awake at 5am. I just travelled with a 1 year old from South Africa to Berlin to Vancouver, so it could well just be jet lag. Last year, it could have been yet another sleepless night with a 1 week old. But, somehow, for 6 years running, I have been wide awake, alone, staring at the clock at the exact time my big brother took his last breath on July 5, 2007.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom a young age I knew intuitively that time was a gift. I clearly remember thinking it wasn’t fair that Strachan, the eldest, had been given more of it than Blythe, the youngest. Since everything in the world had to be fair, it could only be that we go out in the same order we come in. Figuring out that I had 2 Grandmas but only 1 Grandpa because my Mom’s dad had died young unravelled me. Not only were we not guaranteed our equal share of time, we may not even grow old. That is messed up.

graWe lost Strachan in a stupid and illogical way at a ruthless and ridiculous time. He was a 30 year old doctor with a Master’s degree in cancer research. He was in great shape, would not even eat french fries and was the only person I know that never tried smoking. He was living his dream of becoming a doctor after 10 years of studying, in love with a dazzling, formidable woman and working his ass off day and night. When he lost 20 pounds in 3 months, looked like someone had punched him in the eyes and woke up every morning drenched in sweat we chalked it up to the rigour of kicking ass and taking names. Travelling around the country doing internships in a highly competitive field was hard work; he was up for it. Only when he coughed up blood did he relent, get an x-ray (that he read himself) and find a football-sized tumour in his chest. 21 months later that stupid, unyielding, piece of shit tumour won the war.

brtiney spears

Ugliest school girl I’ve ever seen

I count myself as either lucky or wise for never seeking reason for it all. I have not looked to the skies and asked God why or tried to find an underlying basis. It simply ain’t there. I have lived and seen enough to understand that God’s justice is not done here on Earth. If it was, we could never be so inexplicably fortunate in so many ways. I have no clue why God chose Strachan and our family to walk this journey and I am not about to ask. Acceptance has allowed me to heal and move onward to a full life, but it sure does not make me miss him any less.

familySiblings are your true soul mates. I love my husband deeply, have amazing friends, incredible parents and family and a daughter that turns me inside out. But your siblings are with you your entire life. That is a remarkable fact. In a life well lived, you only have your parents or your children for part of it, friends come and go and getting to know your partner should involve work.  Your siblings, on the other hand, are a part of you before you even know what that means.  Like toes or arms, they’re just there; a part you can’t imagine living without. You share everything – space, time, values, an understanding of love.

My brothers and sister are very different people with distinct personalities and diverse lives. But when it comes to the important stuff, we are mirrors. I know how they feel when they see something beautiful, experience love fully, receive exciting news or get scared, because they are my reflections. I can feel pride where Strachan would have felt it, know where bad news would have hit him in the gut and experience how he would have loved his children because it is exactly how I love mine.

silly faceI used to fear what it would mean to move on or heal. I know now that it is not difficult to keep Strachan alive within me. When he passed, part of him moved into me. I love him with the exact intensity I would if he were sitting right here. Should I live for 50 more years, I will still see his face, hear his voice, feel his laugh precisely how they were. That part will never change. A piece of my living, beating heart is carved out for my brother until we meet again.

But six years later I cannot deny there is a space between. Strachan lives on, but his story stands still. As much as I carry him with me through motherhood, to my new job and into my new house; we never get to experience his. I miss him as an Uncle for my children, but nearly as much as I miss him as a father to his own. 

I see this look on Khaya's face daily

I see this look on Khaya’s face daily

As I have learned to do everyday, I celebrate that we got him for 30 great years, that my life will forever be shaped by his and that I can actually see traces of him in my daughter. But today I am so deeply sorry that I don’t get to write this blog about a new, funny, terrifying or boastful story that celebrates, laughs or cringes at Strachan. He doesn’t get to love or hurt, be smart, funny or annoying ever again. We will never get to see new photos or hear new voicemails.  He will never get to see himself looking back up at him through the eyes of his kids and love them so much that he loses his breath.

So I guess, on July 5, just for a day, time also stands still for me.

Strachan Hartley, July 5, 2007. Forever still. Forever missed. Forever loved.

Halloween in my old ski suits.

Halloween in my old ski suits.


With cousin Camille

No clue where we got the horse

No clue where we got the horse


2 thoughts on “July 5 – Forever. Still.

  1. Lovely, lovely blog. My sister was diagnosed with stage 4b non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 6wks after the premature birth of her daughter. The hematologists told her that she had the most aggressive lymphoma they had ever seen. There were many dark days and anxious moments, but she just celebrated her third year in remission! In fact, everyone who was in her clinical trial (which featured 6 months of in-patient chemo), who survived chemo, is still in remission. As a doctor, I often feel that medicine is useless and fails too many people. But every once in a while, medicine scores a big win. I’m sure you’d understand why I cried my eyes out this winter when I had the opportunity to go sledding (in the UK) with my sister and my niece — something I feared I’d never get to do. I can imagine your loss all too well and it leaves me feeling heart broken. It sounds as though the world was really denied more time with a true gem.

  2. Aimee-Noel – I love your blog. This posting is so beautifully heartbreaking…a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person.

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